The White House’s announcement last month that the United States will offer millions of coronavirus vaccines to its two immediate neighbors, Mexico and Canada, is a welcome step toward the reversal of the Trump administration’s “America First” policies. But for humanitarian, economic and strategic reasons, it must be just the first step toward an intentional program of U.S. leadership to vaccinate the Americas.
In the global struggle against COVID-19, Latin American and Caribbean countries have fallen behind. Weak health systems, uncertain leadership, high numbers of informal workers and bad luck have created a perfect storm in the region. Even as the U.S. and other wealthy nations begin to reopen and look forward to a return to normalcy, Latin America and the Caribbean are struggling to climb out of their steepest economic contraction in over 100 years, wiping out a decade of anti-poverty gains and exacerbating already rampant inequality. Per capita GDP is not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, previewing yet another “lost decade,” in addition to financial strain and the high potential for political volatility.
Now, as many countries across the region gear up for elections, the virus is continuing to mutate and spread. With nearly 20 percent of its own population already inoculated, the U.S. will soon have the ability to produce excess doses in the millions. Latin America, hit harder than any other region of the world, should receive priority consideration and access.